Madison Young is having the best month ever. Two weekends ago, the 17-year-old Houston Ballet II dancer was performing her heart out at the Prix de Lausanne, the prestigious scholarship competition held every year in Lausanne, Switzerland. Sixty-seven young dancers from around the world were selected to compete, and Young—the only American among the 20 finalists—impressed the jury enough to win second place. Upon her return to the States last Tuesday, she was offered an apprenticeship with Houston Ballet. Here, Young talks with Pointe about her experience.
Why did you want to go to the Prix de Lausanne?
So many talented dancers who have come out of it are now principals, and it’s an amazing way to meet other dancers from around the world. I think that’s why I wanted to go—to meet people and build bridges with them.
How far in advance did you start preparing?
We started in the beginning of December. We had to squeeze in practices between Nutcracker performances and rehearsals, so any free time that we had we’d be like, Okay, let’s run it! Then in January, after Nutcracker died down, we really went full steam ahead. We had to choose one contemporary variation and one classical—I chose Sleeping Beauty.
What was your schedule like once you got there?
In the morning we’d start with ballet or contemporary. Sometimes the jury would come watch class and score us. Afterwards, we’d have a lunch break, then contemporary and coaching sessions. Everyone performed their variations and contemporary piece that Friday night. About a half hour after the show, the jury announced who would be dancing in the finals the next day.
What’s it like having a jury watch you take class?
It makes me very nervous, but I just have to stay calm and think about it as a regular technique class. It’s what I do every day—it’s what I’ve been trained to do. But the jury is made up of all these incredible dancers who I idolized growing up! It was nerve-racking but awesome at the same time.
What were the coaching sessions like?
Our own coaches weren’t allowed to work with us at the Prix de Lausanne—they provided us with one. For the first coaching session, each candidate was allotted eight minutes. For the second one, we each had only four minutes—it was like, here’s the information and it’s up to you to fix it. Cynthia Harvey, a former principal at American Ballet Theatre, coached me. She offered a new perspective, a new way to think about things.
Were you able to socialize much with the other dancers?
Oh, a lot! We had long lunch breaks sometimes, and we’d all sit at the same table and talk. Almost everyone spoke English. But even if they only spoke a little, it was enough to have a simple conversation.
Before your performances, how did you calm your competition nerves?
I stayed backstage while I was waiting for my turn because I like to support everyone else. It made things a lot easier, mentally, to know that there were people out there rooting for you and that you were rooting for them. I also went through the whole dance in my head and my upper body—I tried not to worry about what was happening below, because once you’re out there, you’re performing for the audience. Then, I took a really deep breath before I went on because it calms my nerves and brings my heart rate down, and it reminds me to just perform.
How did you feel about placing second?
It was exhilarating! I immediately looked for my teacher, HB II ballet mistress Sabrini Lenzi, when the curtain came down because I couldn’t have done it without her. It also hit me that suddenly all these doors opened that weren’t open before.
What was the best thing about your experience?
The people, from the teachers to the coaches to the jury to the students. Talking to them and meeting them was my favorite part. I’ll definitely be keeping in touch.
Here 's a list of all the 2016 Prix de Lausanne prize winners:
- Hang Yu, 16, China
- Madison Young, 17, USA
- Vincenzo Di Primo, 18, Italy
- Leroy Mokgatle, 16, South Africa
- Laura Fernandez, 18, Switzerland
- Junnosuke Nakamura, 16, Japan
- Dingkai Bai, 16, China
Contemporary dance prize: Laura Fernandez and Vincenzo Di Prima
Best Swiss Candidates: Laura Fernandez
Audience favorite: Leroy Mokgatle
Prix Jeune Espoir: Danbi Kim, 15, South Korea